Long silver levers throw themselves in your direction.

It’s a trap! It must be!

You screech as the harrowing sounds of raw metal scraping raw metals pierce your ears. You clamp hands to your ears until you are sure that the only vile sound is your own screaming. The noise has stopped when you take your hands away.

But now your shock has abated, you survey the room and the mechanism. The ceiling is a gross grey-brown, like the floor and the walls. Whilst mustiness is the only smell carried, you imagine a world of other stenches creeping out of the stone floor. Thinking so, you lift your hand to your nose. Ew.

You look at the machine. Its silver head, like an animal, has been forced to the floor; its arms and legs are the levers, pumping back and forth, extending and retracting as the beast slows its movements. Even the three bronze funnels from its back slow their oscillation.

A long boot steps out of the cabin of the machine. You stare as a slender leg follows it, and hips and arm. Finally, a girl blinks out from behind her violet spectacles. You gape at each other.

“Oh, thank God,” you cry. “I thought it was something terrible!”

The girl huffs and lifts away her large spectacles. “It depends on what you class as ‘terrible’. Frankly, I’ve come to resent my nightmares. Then again, if one has become so used to inhaling the moss from a rotting chamber, one should expect that even dreams have menacing moments.”

You raise your eyebrows, but saying nothing. She seems to look beyond you for a moment, before running a hand through her short, dark hair, and smiling.

“I’m Kat Appiler. And you are?” The hand runs down from her head. You don’t take it, instead opening your mouth a fraction.

“I –”

“Fabulous!” says Kat. She strides around you – clapping you on the shoulder for a moment – before her circle finds her back at her machine.

“Anyway, thanks for coming. You don’t know how long I’ve spent scraping away at the floor after I wandered my way through from the mansion. I met Lord Hattington – gorgeous guy! – but he was captured before I had the chance to question him about the whereabouts of the escape.” She hums a low-frequency syllable for a moment. Her eyes blaze intently upon you. “You have no idea how long I have been waiting for a human friend, since I swung through and the door to the chamber vanished just like it has now.”

“What…?” Your voice trails off, and, so slowly it feels as if you are walking through mud, you turn. The door had closed long ago; you were simply too engrossed in what lies ahead to beware of what lies behind – and what was behind is no more than blank wall, an imitation of the rest of the chamber.

So typical of this mansion-maze.

“No!” you yell, throwing hands, feet, face – everything! – at the cold stone. Like bad paint, every swipe peels away odd shards, sticking beyond your nails, into your hair. You flinch. In an instant, Kat is beside you, thrashing too.

“You know, it doesn’t work,” she says in an irritatingly-placid voice.

“Rarh! Then what have you been doing in here all your time?”

Kat rolls her eyes. “I told you: scraping away at the floor. I’m certain there's a passage below – that’s what the plans of the mansion have said. And I’m making progress.” She sticks her chest out in the boast. “I would have gone faster. But, do you know how difficult it is to make a contraction, only to find that one’s own handiwork is optimal in the hands of two people?”

“Sure,” you remark; you scratch your neck and avoid her smoky gaze.

With a smirk, Kat turns away. “Well, take my word for it. Besides, you’ll need to now, if you want to escape.”

“Escape! How?”

Kat raises one, tender eyebrow. “Haven’t you been listening? I’m tunnelling out. I need you now to hold this end of the digger so I can complete the work.”

She is crouched by the machine, a finger poised on what looks like a giant silver spike. You freeze. Is she insane? Likely. But you know you’re not so mad as to grab a lethal point.

You gaze around the room. On the other hand, Kat has a point (no pun intended!): there’s no other mode of escape. You eye the dirty entrance-wall again. Sense suggests that, if the door can open from one side, it will open for you from this side.

Maybe. The choice is yours.

The End

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